When Microsoft announced that 2012 would be its last year at CES, we immediately wondered who would take its place in delivering the show’s keynote, which Microsoft had done for 14 straight years. Samsung, LG, or even Amazon looked to be prime choices. In an interesting turn, chip-maker Qualcomm and its CEO Paul Jacobs will be delivering the keynote at CES 2013.
Qualcomm isn’t the first brand to come to mind when we think of blazing the way for the year’s biggest consumer electronics event. The company is an integral player in the mobile space but operates largely behind the scenes, supplying processors and wireless chipsets for top smartphones and tablets.
“Qualcomm has mobile computing in its DNA, and we look forward to hearing Dr. Jacobs explore the promise of a world of complete interconnectivity,” Consumer Electronics Association president and CEO Gary Shapiro said in the press release, adding, “This keynote demonstrates the crucial role that mobile technologies have at the International CES and increasingly throughout the world.”
Qualcomm sits at the crossroads of several major industry segments: device makers, carrier networks, and wireless technology itself. This keynote could signify that the company is trying to connect those different elements in a more consumer-facing way.
“Clearly, connectivity is the next wave in terms of what is critical for the consumer electronics industry,” Ross Rubin, principal analyst with Reticle Research, told Wired. “We’re seeing all kinds of devices gain the ability to connect to the Internet either directly or indirectly. Such converged connected devices represent both a challenge [to] and an opportunity for what has historically been the bulk of the consumer electronics industry’s revenue.”
Perhaps Qualcomm will follow in the footsteps of Intel, which is venturing into the mobile space itself, not just as a chipmaker. “Qualcomm does not have strong consumer brand recognition today,” Rubin said. “It’s more of an ingredient brand, but it’s looking to build those efforts.”
While CES would seem to provide an opportunity for Qualcomm to do just, the keynote comes at a time when the show has lost much of its former glamor. Qualcomm might be moving to the top deck of a very large sinking ship.
Taking place in Las Vegas each January, CES used to be the venue where all the major players introduced their products for the coming year. Before email and cellphones connected us a hundred different ways, CES was the way to get the scoop on the latest innovations. But years ago Apple retreated, and then removed itself from the show floor completely, instead relying on its own announcements held periodically throughout the year. Many other players — Microsoft, Nokia, and Samsung — have begun to follow suit with their own media events, which are better timed with their production cycles and which allow them to control the message without their competitors getting in the way. Microsoft’s big launches of the year — the Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, and the Surface tablet — will all happen before CES.
“I definitely think that CES is losing its appeal and that has been happening for some time now,” Gartner research vice president Van Baker told Wired. “Very few companies do major announcements at CES, as there is so much noise around the show that companies fear their new product launches will get lost. I fear the CES is going to go the way of Comdex.”